Panthers look at big picture

By Kevin Eckleberry Sports Editor

October 18, 2013

It was a disappointing loss, but the goal is still in sight for the LaGrange College Panthers.

The Panthers (2-3 overall) fell to the Maryville Scots 47-35 at home last weekend, dropping them to 2-1 in USA South play.

Considering the conference champion had two losses a year ago, though, the Maryville setback certainly hasn’t derailed the Panthers’ hopes of capturing the USA South title.

The Panthers need to quickly get back on track, though, and getting a home win over the Huntingdon Hawks today would help a lot.

Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. at Callaway Stadium.

“The reality is, the loss doesn’t change (the goal),” LaGrange College head coach Todd Mooney said. “With no losses or one loss, you’ve got to win if you’re going to win the conference. Right now, this causes us an issue. We’re going to need some help down the road. But our mission hasn’t changed. We have a game this week, and it’s a conference game we’ve got to win.”

This is not just a key conference game, of course, it’s also a showdown against arguably the Panthers’ biggest rival, so motivation hasn’t been hard to come by this week.

“Huntingdon week is a big week for us,” senior running back Marquius Young said. “Our focus picks up, the intensity in practice picks up, all naturally. It’s Huntingdon.”

Since LaGrange College started playing football in 2006, it has played Huntingdon every year.

Huntingdon has had the upper-hand in the rivalry, winning six of the first seven meetings.

The Panthers’ lone win in the series came in 2008 when they won a conference championship and advanced to the NCAA Division III playoffs.

Reversing their fortunes against the Hawks this year won’t be easy.

Huntingdon (5-1 overall) is off to a 2-0 start in conference play after beating Greensboro 48-40 last week.

The Hawks traditionally have a high-powered offense, and that hasn’t changed this season.

The Hawks are averaging 40 points and 544 yards per game, and they’ve done it with a balanced attack.

The Hawks average 325 yards a game, but they also pound out 219 rushing yards a game.

Quarterbacks Ryne Taylor and Taylor Hughes have combined to throw for more than 1,600 yards and 12 touchdowns, and running backs Austin Bennett and Garrett Fletcher have combined for 11 touchdowns.

“They’re always really good. Coach (Mike) Turk does a real nice job with them,” Mooney said. “They’re going to be up-tempo, they’re going to be talented, and they’re going to play really hard. They’ve done very well so far, and we’re excited about that challenge.”

In the past couple of years, Huntingdon has had its way with the Panthers.

After a close game in 2010, which LaGrange College lost 35-28, Huntingdon won 45-10 in 2011, and 62-17 last year.

The one big difference this year could the Panthers’ ability to keep pace offensively.

The Panthers are scoring 36 points a game, and they’re doing it mostly through the air, with junior quarterback Graham averaging 390 yards per game.

A year ago, the Panthers averaged just 19 points per game.

“If you look at us this year, we’ve completely changed that,” Mooney said. “We’ve been able to get down the field pretty quickly and get in the end zone. We just have to make sure we take care of our technique, and take care of the ball.”

As for Huntingdon, Turk wasn’t entirely pleased with the effort last week against Greensboro.

The Hawks gave up 353 passing yards, and they were unable to put away a game they appeared to have in hand after going ahead 28-6 in the first half.

“We did enough good things to win, but we have to play better,” Turk said. “We didn’t play very well in any phase of the game. We did some good things on offense, enough to score 48 points, but we missed a lot of opportunities. We were sloppy in the kicking game with a blocked punt, a missed field goal and a missed extra point and we just didn’t play well on defense.

“We’re at the midway point of our season. We have five games left. All of them are conference games and each one of them is important. We have to go back to work, continue to improve and figure out how to play better as we move forward.”